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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Ryuichi Sakamoto: The master of Japanese electronic music has died

He has won awards, including an Oscar, Grammy, and BAFTA, for his work as a solo artist and as a member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO).

Sakamoto was diagnosed with cancer a second time in 2021. His office said he died on Tuesday.

He starred in the 1983 film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence with David Bowie.

His score for The Last Emperor in 1987 earned him an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe. He also starred in the film, an epic about the life of Pui, the last emperor of China.

Sakamoto began studying composition at age 10 and was inspired by The Beatles and Debussy.

He formed YMO in 1978 with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi playing keyboards, and their synthesizer innovations influenced techno-pop and hip-hop.

“Asian music had a big influence on Debussy, and Debussy had a big influence on me. So music spread worldwide and came full circle,” he said in 2010.

Professor Brian Cox, physicist and former keyboardist for the band Dare and D: Ream, praised Sakamoto in a tweet: “He was a huge part of my ’80s music experience – first for me through his work with David Sylvian and Japan – but of course, he left it.”, he has an incredible catalog of music.”

In a 2018 interview, Sakamoto described his attempts to challenge Western conventions of musical composition.

“When I wrote scores, my thinking was limited to the Western forms of composition I learned as a teenager. But I always wanted to break through it, break through walls or boundaries that I was trapped in. Sometimes I use electronics or mix it with electronics; the sound can help break down those walls.”

He also enjoys exploring different styles of music. “Once I woke up, I started thinking, um, what kind of music would I listen to,” he says. “Sometimes, randomly or accidentally, some music comes to mind. For me, there is no difference in genre or category. Music is music.”

He is also known as an environmental activist in Japan, especially after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

His father, born in 1952, was a literary editor for Japanese authors, including Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe. He received a classical education as a student but later studied ethnomusicology at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He was fascinated by world music, including the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Later collaborations included working with Brian Eno, Alva Noto, and cellist Jacques Morelenbaum. Sakamoto’s daughter, Miu Sakamoto, is a J-pop singer.

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